Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I'm With Cancer

Genre: Dramedy
Premise: Semi-autobiographical look at a man who finds out he has cancer. Coping with his mortality, he decides to use humor in his struggle to cure cancer and keep his sanity intact.
About: Just last week, Seth Rogen announced this will be his next project. Mandate pictures and Seth himself will be producing (along with Evan Goldberg). James McAvoy is attached to play the lead. What might explain Rogen jumping from the cancer-themed "Funny People" to another movie that centers around the disease, is that Seth is friends with Will Reiser, the writer, and was there with him while he dealt with the disease (it may also explain why the friend's character name is "Seth"). "I'm With Cancer" also finished 9th in voting on last year's Black List with 24 votes.
Writer: Will Reiser

Today is sort of a monumental day at Scriptshadow because it's the first review from someone completely outside the industry. This person has no aspirations whatsoever of being a part of the movie business.The extent of their involvement is going to see movies and that's it. So what are they doing reviewing a script on Scriptshadow? Let me try and explain. My really good friend who I've known for fifteen years now, Carmen Rossi, has breast cancer. So when I decided to review "I'm With Cancer", I thought it would be an interesting idea to get her perspective on it. I was a little reluctant about approaching her at first but as soon as I mentioned it, she was immediately game. I remember the day she told me the news and how sick and scared I felt. I told her she could write whatever she wanted. No restrictions. Just tell us what she thought . So, this is Carmen Rossi's review of "I'm With Cancer."

I have cancer.

I found out one week after my birthday. To say I went into shock upon hearing the news would be the understatement of the century. I’m not old. Cancer doesn’t run in my family. I’m a good person. When I took my life insurance health exam two years ago I was rated “Preferred Plus No Nicotine” which is, like, the healthiest you can be—essentially I was as healthy as a marathon runner. So yes, I totally went into shock when I heard the news. But once it finally sunk in, I realized that I could cry about it or I could laugh about it. I chose to laugh about it and continue to do so.

When I heard about “I’m With Cancer” I wanted to read it out of personal curiosity. I wanted to read what a comedy about cancer was all about. That, and I wanted to try out my new Kindle (which I love, btw).

Adam Schwartz is a normal, ordinary guy. He enjoys his job, loves his girlfriend and complains too much. Out of the blue, at age 25, Adam’s diagnosed with cancer. There’s nothing too distinctive about Adam. He could be anyone. Which is the whole point. What happens to Adam could truly happen to anyone. “I’m With Cancer” is semi-autobiographical, and Reiser draws upon his experience with a cancer diagnosis at a young age, and the battle he went through, to present the story. Following the rule of “write what you know,” Reiser perfectly captures the emotional aspects of the story—from the apprehension of telling people about the cancer, to the varied reactions the news elicits and how these affect the character.

“I’m With Cancer” takes us along on Adam’s physical and emotional journey to happiness and acceptance. We’re with Adam in the stark hospital room when he receives his diagnosis, we’re with him as he shares the news with family and friends. We’re with him through chemotherapy, relaxation therapy and laughter therapy. We’re with him as the drugs designed to kill the cancer cells also kill the healthy cells and his physical appearance deteriorates. We’re there as he receives more and more bad news, and plans his own funeral arrangements. And then we’re with him when he has an emotional catharysis and complete transformation.

Being diagnosed with cancer, particularly unexpectedly and at a young age, is the most traumatic event you can experience. As someone who’s experienced a fair number of traumatic events in her life, take my word on this. But one thing you learn is that while the cancer may reside only in *your* body, it affects everyone around you. A positive attitude and a good support system can get you through it. I have an amazing support system of family and friends. Adam has…well, Adam has a smothering mother, a stroke victim father, Seth, his pothead jokester of a best friend (who uses Adam’s condition to score chicks), and Rachel, Adam’s girlfriend of four months. While they all care about Adam, none of them are really able to handle all that comes along with a cancer diagnosis, and Adam forms new relationships with those that understand his situation more—specifically, his fellow chemo patients and his psychologist.

While the principal story is that of Adam’s transformation, we also see a transformation in Seth—in between his wisecracks, he’s a concerned friend terrified of what may happen—and in Rachel, who simply cannot handle Adam’s condition or his needs, and lets him down time and time again. While not a traditional laugh out loud comedy, “I’m With Cancer” approaches a serious disease with humor and light-heartedness. But to those who know people who have died from cancer, I fear the tone of the story may be off-putting and come across as flippant and disrespectful. It’s not, but cancer evokes a lot of emotion in people and personal experiences will most definitely play into one’s interpretation of this story.

Once Adam decides to go through chemotherapy to fight the cancer, he quits his job at the museum, and his co-workers throw a going-away party for him. Without question, the main and only topic of discussion among all the party attendees is Adam’s cancer. Through short snippets of conversation, we see the co-workers react to Adam’s health—from the guy who asks if he’s wearing a wig, to the woman who advocates natural healing and a diet of only green foods , to the woman crying in hysterics—each are portrayed in an honest and sincere way. (Responses to me ran this gambit and beyond, and just this morning I received an email from a friend praising asparagus is a miracle food to defeat cancer cells.)

It’s a funny scene. But it’s also a perfect example of what concerns me about this script. I find it hilarious because I’m a young person with cancer. Will someone who doesn’t have cancer find it funny? Will they feel uncomfortable laughing at it? What about someone whose mom died of cancer? Is cancer something that’s so sacred we can’t laugh about it? My grandparents would never say the word aloud, and if it was uttered, it was whispered as if saying it would bring it upon them. But that was then. Now, we have high-profile athletes and celebrities who fight their cancer battles in public. We have cancer walks and fundraisers in which survivors proudly stand tall and tell their stories.

But is it something people are comfortable seeing on the screen? There is humor in this movie. The character of Seth (to be played by Seth Rogen. It was hard to read the part and NOT imagine Seth Rogen playing the Seth character, in part because it reads like every role Seth Rogen has played) provides comic relief, as does Adam’s stereotypical Jewish mother. But is it enough to balance the scenes where Adam’s in the Chemotherapy room? Where you visibly see his health deteriorate until he’s a shadow of his former self? When he starts making his funeral preparations?

To help cope with the emotional aspects of his disease, Adam sees a psychologist. During their first meeting, the psychologist says: “The first thing I want you to do is to stop looking at cancer as a burden. Cancer has come into your life to show you that your emotional and physical bodies are out of balance. This is your chance to correct that.” Adam completely dismisses her advice. But as his ordeal continues, these words shape his life, and in the end, he ends up both emotionally and physically content, and in balance.

Reiser does a great job of telling Adam’s story in a realistic and accurate voice. The story progresses at a great pace, and I feel there is a good balance between the humorous scenes and the more tragic scenes. Reiser nails the details, like the doctor who speaks as though everyone has a medical degree and understands what a schwannoma neurofibrosarcomas is. He illustrates the paralyzing fear Adam has about Rachel with eerie accuracy—the cancer diagnosis is too much for Rachel to handle and they drift apart. Though it’s obvious she doesn’t love him and the relationship is over, Adams’s fear of being alone and the disbelief that he can ever find anyone to love him while he has cancer, keeps them together. And breaks my heart.

But Adam’s story ends as I know mine will—with the cancer gone and a life full of love, happiness and the things that really matter.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?

[ ] barely kept my interest

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius